Tribal tattoos have always been a popular choice, and Native American tribal designs are no different.
With extensive symbolic meaning stemming from a rich, fascinating culture, Native American tattoo designs are sure to make for awesome-looking, eye-catching tattoos.
Tattoos in Native American Culture
As with most early tribal cultures, the customs and traditions of many Native American tribes involved tattooing, either for ritual, aesthetic, or identification purposes.
Native American Tattoos often took the forms of markings that would serve to identify the person as a member of a specific tribe, each of which had different symbols.
After a victory in war or battle, warriors would sometimes receive tattoos to signify their victory.
In some Native American sub-cultures, tattoos were also of spiritual value – there were those who believed that the tattoo would work as a protective charm or endow the person with supernatural powers.
Animals whose strengths or abilities the person wanted to emulate made for a common choice of design.
The tattooing process itself in Native American tribes usually involved using a sharpened instrument, such as a bone or a rock, to carve the design, and soot or natural dyes to stain the skin.
Native American Tattoo Ideas
There are plenty of designs and elements to choose from when planning a Native American-themed tattoo. If you’re looking for some inspiration, consider the following designs.
This is likely the most popular choice, as dreamcatchers have become commonplace worldwide – not only as tattoos but as good luck charms and jewelry pieces.
Dreamcatchers take the shape of hoops, often adorned with feathers and beads, with woven patterns inside.
They originate from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe of Canada and the United States and they were believed to bring good dreams and ward off nightmares.
In tattoo art, there’s plenty of variation between dreamcatcher designs. The traditional image of the dreamcatcher can be modified to express a particular value or meaning, for instance through the shape of the pattern inside the hoop – many people opt for replacing the traditional pattern with a heart-shaped or animal-shaped one.
The bow and arrow were the weapon of choice for Native American hunters and warriors, and in many ways, arrows have become synonymous with this culture.
Arrow tattoos have a range of meanings, though generally, they tend to symbolize protection, perseverance, and direction. Two crossed arrows can also symbolize friendship, and as such make for great matching tattoos.
For Native Americans, feathers represented the spirit of birds. They were often used in rituals and ceremonies, often for the purpose of purifying the area through positive spiritual energy.
In general, feathers symbolized positivity, wisdom, and spiritual communication.
In addition, feathers of different birds had their own meanings. For instance, eagle feathers symbolized bravery and courage – hence they were presented to warriors as tokens of their valor and were used in the headdresses worn by warriors and clan chiefs.
Native American culture, traditions, and beliefs are closely tied to nature, in particular to animals. Just about every animal has a symbolic meaning associated with it, and many appear in legends and folk tales.
The specific meanings may vary slightly between different tribes, so it’s a good idea to conduct some thorough research before deciding on a specific animal.
The concept of totem animals and animal spirit guides played a major role in Native American culture.
Totem animals were believed to be spirits associated with a tribe, clan, family, or an individual. The totem animal would stay with the person or group throughout their existence.
Alongside this belief, many tribes thought that each person is connected with a total of nine different animals – spirit guides – which would appear to guide them at different times in their life.
For some interesting animal-based design ideas, consider also combining an animal with another symbol or with writing. For a more modern look, geometric tattoos work great for Native American-themed animal tattoos.
Native American warrior or chief tattoo
Native American warriors and chiefs were distinguished through wearing elaborate headdresses of feathers.
They are often depicted either on horseback or in portrait form. It won’t come as a surprise that warriors are symbolic of courage, strength, and victory.
This design is a great choice for larger tattoos since it will involve a lot of detail and require a fair amount of space to be rendered accurately. It’s suitable for a number of styles, traditional and 3D in particular, and will look great either in color or in monochrome.
Native American script tattoos
Many Native American tribes had unique alphabets for accurately representing their language.
If you’re confident you have the right translation, a word or a full quote in Native American script could make for an original and enigmatic tattoo.
This kind of design would work great on its own as a small, simple writing tattoo, or make for a meaningful addition to a larger tattoo involving other elements.
Native American tribal pattern tattoos
If you’re looking for something more abstract and less obvious, but still closely tied to Native American culture, consider adopting a tribal pattern into a tattoo design.
The best way to go about this is look at traditional Native American art and at images of Native American clothing and decorations, and find elements that catch your eye.
Native American seal tattoo
Every major Native American tribe has its own seal, combining elements that are of most significance to the tribe’s cultural identity.
This design is a particularly good idea if you identify with Native American culture through upbringing or ancestry.
Native American tattoos offer an amazingly wide scope for creativity and expression – so much so that a number of tattoo artists and designers out there specialize only in Native American art.
Whether you consider Native American culture to be part of your individual identity or you simply admire the culture and its philosophies, a well-chosen tattoo could be the perfect way to show your affinity.
If you’re interested in tribal tattoos and still exploring your options, Polynesian tattoos may also be worth considering.